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It hasn’t taken long for the rest to notice. The counselors were new. Every last one of the older leaders we’d grown to rely on over the years had been replaced. New people, with unwavering grins and boundless camp songs, guided us to our cabins, repeated the same rules as every year (boys and girls in separate cabins, no wandering off, don’t go near the House).
Roger had always been a little clueless. Or maybe he was brave? But he was the first to “show off” as the counselors called it when they thought we weren’t listening. The snake was harmless, only a gopher should have been afraid of its five feet, and Roger knew how to control it. It was his talent. The snake coiled up his arm and plunked its head down in his hair, its forked tongue slipping out at anyone who watched.
We all laughed, used to this kind of spectacle—he’d called three owls to our campfire two years ago and they’d munched on mice while we ate s’mores.
The too-tight-ponytail counselor didn’t think it was funny at all. She shrieked and Roger realized the adults watched, round-eyed and exchanging glances.
Roger didn’t return to camp for almost a week.
The rest of us started to talk, too.
“There’s no flight lessons,” Jeremy groaned. He had a hold of the edge of my mattress to keep himself grounded. My heart ached for him—this was the only month of the year he got to ‘taste the air,’ as he called it.
“Stacy was hired last minute from some college recruitment event,” Evelyn pitched in about her counselor. Her eyes flashed, reflecting the dark like a cat’s.
“I needed them this summer,” Sara whispered. A crackle of electricity lit her face for an instant. “And they’re not here.”
“We need to do something.” I hated to be the one to say it. I didn’t want the responsibility. Or the questioning looks people exchanged when I suggested plans. “I’ll do it, but help me come up with what we could do,” I added.
Jeremy dropped onto my bed and reached for me. His hand was too warm against my own, but I leaned into him. This was our last year before we graduated, but both of us knew we’d return here to work. Too many kids arrived without knowing what was wrong with them, and at least we could help.
But we were also almost adults, and that fact raced along my skin as surely as Sara’s electrical change. We’d be able to see each other outside of this remote shelter.
One missing face made us all the most concerned. Not that we saw her often during the summers—nothing more than a brief visit or two every year, but she was a part of this place as surely as we were. And now she’d disappeared.
“She’s gotta be at the House,” Roger said. A tiny bird nestled into his neck, chattering in bird-speak in its sleep.
“I have to get up there then,” I said, doing my best to hide the shiver of fear that lifted the hairs on the back of my neck.
“It would be easier for me,” Jeremy spoke up.
I pulled my hand from his and shook my head. “No. If I get caught, that’s one thing, but the rest of you have to stay here. To fix this.”
We all knew the rules: the House was off limits. Get caught going there? No more camp. For always. I’d hate that, but I’d hate it even more if the others thought I’d sent them, thought that maybe they hadn’t gone of their own free will.
Swallowing hard, I forced myself to pay attention. To plan. To keep from jumping in and controlling anything.
To pretend I wasn’t as afraid as I was.
Jeremy wasn’t fooled. As the boys slipped out before the counselors returned, he lingered. I leaned forward, touching my forehead to his chest. His arms circled me and the threat of tears forced me to hold my breath and squeeze my eyes shut.
“Let me come with you.”
I shook my head and had to gulp air to keep my voice even, “No. It’s not worth the risk.”
“The risk of you getting caught is worse.”
“If I can’t come back, it wont be much of a loss.” Sometimes the truth felt too sharp, and this cut.
“It would be. For me.”
But I shook my head. No more words. And then footsteps outside and Jeremy had to go, though no footfalls accompanied his retreat.
The wind whispered all night, telling stories in the dark, all of them filled with flames and memories I didn’t want. All of them reminders of what it had been like before the camp found me. I’d arrive two years after everyone else my age had been contacted. They hadn’t detected me before and by that time my parents, my teachers, my classmates, and especially me, thought I’d lost my mind.
I still remembered them explaining the truth; the way a weight lifted from me. And the extra concern on everyone’s faces. Because I could be dangerous. I didn’t want to be. I just wanted to be me, to not get funny glances from my classmates, to find a nice little place to live with Jeremy.
At breakfast, Sara smiled at me. The younger girl’s hair was as static filled as ever and I reached over to braid it down her back.
“Please bring them back,” she whispered to me, grabbing my hand. “I can’t hold on.” As if to illustrate her point, an arc of electricity snapped between us, tingling down to my toes.
***Curious what happens next? Be sure to hop over to the rest on the Lightening Quick Reads post! I'd love to hear what you think!
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